Saturday, April 12, 2014

Draft Day

Set over the course of a single day, Draft Day offers the opportunity for sports-film go-to-guy Kevin Costner (now a little too long in the tooth to star as an actual player) to star as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns on the team's biggest day of the year. Fighting the recent death of his father, an aggressive new head coach (Denis Leary), an owner (Frank Langella) demanding a "big splash," his own beliefs on the right move and the player he wants to draft (Chadwick Boseman), and the news that his not-so-secret girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) will struggle through the day to do what he believes is best for the team.

The script by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph along with the framing of cinematographer Eric Steelberg captures the pressure, size, and scale of the moment Sonny finds himself in the middle of when he makes a questionable deal to trade for the number-one pick to draft "a sure thing" in quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Although I think the script does falter a bit in Sonny's final moves, straining believably, the story director Ivan Reitman sets out to tell is enganging, well-paced, and a hell of a good time.

Along with the unprecedented access to ESPN's NFL Draft studio and beautiful overhead shots of several NFL stadiums with which Sonny does wheeling and dealing with over the course of the film, Reitman also delivers some nice nods with the incorporation of fan-hysteria via talk radio and shots of fans Seattle voicing their displeasure over the trade.

Although I think the subplot involving Sonny's troubled relationship with his mother (Ellen Burstyn) and his recently departed father gets a little too much time, I enjoyed Garner as the team's football-obsessed Clevelandite (in a realistic, not over-the-top buffoonish kinda way) and the team's salary cap manager who is more than just a love interest. The fact that their relationship turns out to be the worst kept secret of the film (even more so than Sonny's shocking trade which starts the dominoes falling) is a nice touch as well.

Costner carries the film with a strong supporting performance from Garner and Terry Crews as the father of a potential first round pick (Arian Foster) who desperately wants to play for the Browns just like his father. Leary and Langella deliver in roles they could just as easily have done in their sleep (although Garner and Leary have a great scene in the team's cafeteria), and the film sprinkles in other noticeable faces throughout including several members of the ESPN Draft Day crew. Smallville's Tom Welling is well-cast in the small role of the Browns' current quarterback whose future is upended with Sonny making the deal for the first pick in the draft.

With the hours ticking down to minutes, Draft Day finally arrives with several big questions. Did Sonny make the right deal? Is Callahan worth the #1 pick? How will the GM find the path to do what he thinks is right and still get the team what it needs? Fans of sports movies won't be surprised by any of these answers as Draft Day certainly doesn't break the mold from what one expects from a sports film, but Costner does a good job balancing the weight of the moment and his own troubles to keep us entertained to see just what the newly-branded renegade general manager will do next.

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